Amid the hype around artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), it’s easy for businesses to fall into the trap of believing that technology is a panacea to solve complex business problems. The truth is more nuanced, say two leading executives in the unified communications industry, which is on the verge of an evolution from reactive to proactive customer service.
Unified communication platform service providers are “flying in the tail of a comet of research and development by industry giants Google, Amazon and Microsoft, picking up the building blocks of advanced technology and applying it to real-world customer experience (CX) scenarios”, says Telviva chief commercial officer Rob Lith.
“As these tech giants spend a massive amount of money on R&D for commercial consumer products, we are able to pick up these AI and ML building blocks and apply them to specific uses in a contact centre environment, for example,” says Lith. “However, things such as AI and ML are tools in the war chest.”
There is a saying that AI is not magic, but maths. It can be coded to be very clever, but to achieve the goal we set out to achieve, it still needs the human touch.
“Human business analysts use these tools and the insights they bring to the fore to get an enriched understanding that is useful to them as they optimise businesses. As contact centres evolve to use a multichannel approach, AI allows for greater scale, but it is always an augmentation, not the total solution.”
Genii Analytics CEO Kobus van der Westhuizen agrees, saying that when people understand what ML and AI are, the concept of augmentation makes sense. “At its simplest, ML is a data-driven platform that accumulates multiple sets of data, with algorithms in place that pitches it on the parameters you want to teach it on.”
Van der Westhuizen says that over the past five years, the focus has been on how to augment human-driven conversations and communications — in other words, how to make the process faster, easier and more effective, both inbound and outbound.
“The next wave we are working on in the industry is autonomous customer engagement – you now accumulate data and historical perspectives on customers and start doing predictive engagements, without a human in the loop,” he says.
Van der Westhuizen adds that AI is seeing an uptake in five principal areas, namely natural language understanding (NLU) and natural language processing (NLP), data, robotics, cognitive use cases, processes and tech-enabled AI.
“The principal areas that service providers are working on in the unified communications industry are NLU and NLP, data and processes. With the vast amounts of data that organisations collect, we can implement hyper-personalisation — where you can start serving customers from the position of knowing who they are, where they are, their demographic, their preferred channels, what they have bought and what they are thinking of buying, and much more. This empowers a customer-facing employee massively.
“With processes, we look at process automation where we use AI and data to automate mundane processes that a human would previously have actioned,” Van der Westhuizen says.
Lith points out that beyond the convenience of this type of capability, it frees people to invest time and energy on more strategic and complicated matters that require human empathy and nuance. “Ultimately,” says Lith, “all these tools are intended to be implemented to help businesses service customers better.”
Van der Westhuizen agrees, saying that by integrating this level of intelligence and analytics into a platform, businesses can target real pain points, such as customer churn. “If you have access to this level of intelligence, you are able to start predicting what a customer will contact you with before they do, shifting you into the realm of predictive customer service, which is powerful when seeking to boost customer retention.”
Both Lith and Van der Westhuizen say that the marketplace has been struggling to prove return on investment (ROI) on AI. “This is the Achilles’ heel of AI, but can be avoided,” explains Van der Westhuizen.
He says that throwing technology at a problem without a proper business case has resulted in disappointment, and this will continue. “When approaching any business process – not just in contact centres – there must be a design-thinking exercise,” he says. “The business and their chosen partner must understand the problem from all angles before breaking it down into bite-sized chunks.”
By doing this, he says, a case can be made that AI and ML may or may not be able to address the pain points. “Once you decide it can, you are able to assign a hard deliverable, such as a percentage improvement in customer retention, for example, which gives you what we like to call a ‘true north’ – somewhere towards which you can calibrate your compass. This is measurable and you can demonstrate ROI.”
Lith agrees, adding that vague promises that AI is a panacea to solve all problems not only gives technology a bad name, but it results in wasted money, unfulfilled promises and bad blood. “Approached correctly,” he says, “the power of technology holds immense promise to augment and bring out the best in humans.”
About Rob Lith
Rob Lith is the chief commercial officer of Telviva, powered by Connection Telecom, which he co-founded in 2003. He is an ICT industry heavyweight and Internet specialist who has been involved in the industry for the last 20 years. His lifelong interest in technology has contributed to his in-depth knowledge of Internet markets, technology and products.
Telviva, formerly Connection Telecom, is a market leader in cloud-based communications for business. Seamlessly integrating voice, video and chat in one intelligent platform, Telviva enables you to have better quality conversations with customers, suppliers and staff.
For several years, we have presented a portfolio of brands, namely Connection Telecom, Telviva and Fat Budgie. These have now been consolidated under the Telviva banner to better align our product understanding and messaging, enabling our customers to maximise the benefits of consolidating all their general business communications into a single cloud application. For more information, go to www.telviva.co.za.
About Genii Analytics
Genii Analytics provides customer conversational analytics solutions, artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions to companies in the financial services, telecommunications, health care, insurance, automotive and retail sectors. Genii further provides advice, consulting and professional services as well as an autonomous predictive digital engagement solution for sales, retentions, collection and service.
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